Monday, February 13, 2012

The Deed of Paksenarrion

I picked this book up at a Goodwill recently and it has quickly proven to be more than worth the dollar it sold for. An omnibus of three novels and 1024 pages, I decided to tackle it in my usual fashion by reading the first book, The Sheep Farmer's Daughter, then coming back for the second and third books at a later point. This tactic will keep me from becoming burnt out and disinterested, which would be a feat, because this is a good read! The trilogy of books follows the life of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter (Paks for short), the eponymous daughter of a sheep farmer as she flees from an arranged marriage for a life as a hired soldier with a mercenary company. Hit the jump for a spoilery review.

If anyone ever had a hard knock life, it's Paks. Initially, the book concerns itself with Paks and the other recruits drill and training and nothing seems amiss until BAM! one chapter begins with a bloody and beaten Paks locked in the cell of a dungeon, accused of nearly killing a corporal. Then proves to be false, as the corporal has minor injuries, while Paks has all the signs of having the living shit beaten out of her and briefly, possibly raped, though fortunately that turns out not to be true. Paks is vindicated as the victim after it's discovered that a love potion (an aphrodisiac, to be specific) Corporal Stephi drank was drugged. After Paks recovers and the remorseful Stephi is sent away for punishment, she finishes her training and she, along with the rest of the recruits are sent to rendezvous with the rest of Duke Phelan's mercenary company for further training and their first campaign.

Militaries and warfare in the Paks-verse is interesting. There doesn't seem to be formal armies, but rather, cities and other entities employ mercenary companies to fight their battles. Cities themselves do have militias, but I suppose they're meant more for defense and are more expensive to use offensively than just hiring soldiers to fight for you. This leads to some interesting situations. It's mentioned in The Sheep Farmer's Daughter that companies will sometimes fight side-by-side one year and against each other the next. At the same time, however, companies based in the North of the continent are more honor-based and will turn down contracts if the potential employer wants them to perform dishonorable acts, like marauding or killing innocent bystanders. Many of the companies in the South, on the other hand, aren't so egalitarian, which ultimately is the undoing of two such groups. Another aspect worth mentioning is the prevalence of women fighters. Apparently, in the Northern regions it isn't uncommon for women to join mercenary companies, there's even one company mentioned that was founded by a woman, but that's a one of a kind situation. In the South, however, women fighters are less common and leads to a bit of a culture shock to people there.

Mercenary companies also differ a bit in terms of what they specialize in. Duke Phelan's for example, is more infantry and archery with some cavalry, while another - called Vladi's Pikes - uses, you guessed it, pikes as their main weapon. There are also cavalry companies and even one that specializes only in siege weaponry.

Back to the story, Paks engages in her first battle and is badly wounded in the leg, along with catching a fever. She recovers from the latter, but is almost killed a second time when the wagon transporting the wounded is attacked by members of a smaller and unscrupulous mercenary company. Again, she survives, and the Duke retaliates against the heinous act and wipes the opposing company out, including their leader. Paks makes a full recovery, finds herself promoted from recruit to private (having completed her baptism of fire). Unfortunately, she loses some friends during the campaign they were hired for and the one against the other company. Stephi, the corporal who attacked her earlier in the book also dies during the latter event, which Paks regrets.

Death is something that surrounds Paks during the course of the book. She kills enemy soldiers, but also loses people she cares for. This is uniquely felt when the book's main plot finally surfaces. The Phelani engage in a second, much larger campaign in Paks' second year when they, along with several other companies are hired by the major trading guild to attack a city suspected of looting caravans for their own profit. While they set up to siege the city (Rotengre), Paks and a contingent of Phelani are sent to man a fort (Dwarfwatch) far behind the main force. Not long after, an opposing army of mercenaries, Halveric Company, arrives to lay siege to them. The former surrender, but do to friendship between the leaders of both companies, Paks and the others are granted much freedom of movement while they wait for the Duke to pay their ransom.

Unfortunately, it never happens. After the main Halveric force leaves, yet another company of mercs show up to, you guessed it, seize the fort and take both the Halveric and Phelani captive. This force is led by a man named Lord Siniava, but also known by the deceptively benign nickname of the Honeycat. He's a totally ruthless and inhuman bastard, however, who has no qualms about torturing and killing anyone. Fortunately, though, Paks and two of her friends, Saben and Canna were collecting berries and avoided capture. Knowing Dwarfwatch can't holdout against the siege and wanting to warn the rest of the company of the danger, they set off on foot, narrowly avoiding capture and fighting hunger. During this journey, another plotline emerges. Paks manages to call on the healing power of a saint named Gird to partially heal Canna, who took an arrow to the shoulder earlier on. It's notable because Canna states that only paladins and marshals of St. Gird can heal. The fact that Paks isn't a Girdsman, let alone a paladin or marshal hints at future events.

Eventually, the trio are ambushed by brigands when they get close to the Phelani's camp and only Paks escapes. After recovering, she takes part in the lifting of the siege at Dwarfwatch and becomes a respected hero after the tale of her escape and journey spreads through the company. After the siege of lifted, the Duke, along with several other companies form an alliance and embark on a war against the Honeycat, with the expressed goal of ending him in revenge. This takes up the latter part of the book and sees Paks participate in the sacking of two of Siniava's cities, so needless to say, there's plenty of action. We see further hints that Paks isn't just any ordinary daughter of a sheep farmer too. Her friend Saben was killed in the earlier ambush by the brigands and Canna was rescued, but mortally wounded. Before dying, she asks for her medallion of St. Gird be given to Paks and it proves to be a most fortuitous decision, as it saves her life several times. Its implied that the medallion senses danger and acts to keep her alive, like causing a cramp in her back, which causes her to stand up just in time to avoid being hit by a crossbow bolt. It also protects her from the dark powers of a priest of an evil god when she comes to the aid of a paladin.

Ultimately, after spending weeks, possibly even months chasing down Siniava and his rapidly dwindling army, the Honeycat is cornered inside a crumbling fortress. A pirate controlling a nearby forest aids the allied forces by revealing the location of a secret tunnel, and Paks and some of the other survivors of Dwarfwatch are stationed outside catch anyone trying to escape. They all fall under the effects of a sleeping spell, but Paks medallion wakes her up just in time to wake the others and ambush the Honeycat and his entourage as they try to flee the fortress. Interestingly, he tries to escape in the shapeshifted form of an animal, but quick eyed Paks spots him and with the timely arrival of the paladin she helped earlier, captures Siniava. Needless to say, he's killed shortly thereafter.

The book ends with Paks being presented with the possibility of going off to become a paladin of St. Gird, due to what almost seems like divine intervention. She rejects the idea in favor of remaining in the Duke's service, but it is a tantalizing possibility that will probably be explored in the next book, Divided Allegiance.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. For something that was only 315 pages, it was bursting with plenty of excitement and action. Plus, it was nice to see a fantasy story with a female protagonist. I would highly recommend picking up the omnibus.

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